Something you rarely hear anyone speak of is the need to “cull” or “euthanize” a bird. There may be occasions when you have a bird that is so sick or injured that the only humane thing to do is to put it down. When keeping captive birds, this is something you must be prepared for.  In this brief article, I've described what I consider to be the most humane way to put a bird down. It should be noted that performing this task is NEVER fun, NEVER easy, and should NEVER be taken lightly. I've outlined the supplies needed and my method for doing this less than desirable deed.

Why Would We Need To Euthanize A Bird?

Here, I don’t make this decision lightly. I consider all of my birds to be my "babies". They are all carefully and lovingly cared for. They bring me great joy and are the lights of my life. When one of them is injured or sick, I do everything in my ability to save them FIRST. But I won't allow them to suffer. If it has become apparent that even with my considerable skills I cannot fix them, I make the decision to put them to sleep. It's a horrible and difficult decision, and I hate to ever have to make it. Most of my birds have been bred specifically to fit a need in my breeding program and/or have given me years of joy and many chicks. I don’t want to lose them if at all possible, but I don’t want to see them suffer in any way, shape or form either. It may break my heart to do it, but when one of my babies is beyond repair, the most humane thing to do is to euthanize them.

Unlike some breeders I know, I REFUSE to just “snap” the neck of a bird or drown it. I won’t use any method that will allow it to live more than a mere few seconds. I would never want to cause a bird more harm or injury than it has already been through. This is why I consider this to be the most humane way.

Some of the reasons we may need to euthanize a bird may be:

  • Sick beyond repair and suffering
  • Severely damaged due to injury
  • Has a disease that is highly contagious and will affect the entire flock if left with them
  • Is a carrier of a virus, bacterial infection, or aggressive parasite that will be passed on to offspring or other birds in the aviary
  • Cannibalizes its young

I euthanize birds sick or injured beyond repair using Ether. It’s essentially an overdose of what used to be an anesthetic for humans. It’s quick and painless, and the bird literally just goes to sleep.

How Do We Go About It?

What You Need:

  • Coffee can  with a tightly fitting lid (metal or plastic are best – the cardboard cans do not hold the Ether fumes well).
  • 5 or 6 cotton balls
  • Spray Ether – it can be found at the auto parts or hardware store and is usually called “Starting Fluid”. There may be other forms, but this is what I use here.

It is important you perform this task OUTDOORS and NOT inside your home or anywhere near the rest of your birds. The fumes are very strong and can kill the rest of your flock. You should NOT breathe the fumes yourself!

How To Prepare:

  • Gather all of your supplies and MOVE TO THE OUTDOORS
  • Remove the lid from your coffee can and set aside
  • Spray each cotton ball until nearly soaked then place in the coffee can
  • Replace the lid on the coffee can and allow to stand for about 10 minutes. This allows the Ether to evaporate into the air in the can and fill it. The fumes will be VERY strong. You may notice the smell even once the lid is replaced.
  • Capture your sick bird
  • While holding the bird in one hand, crack the lid of the coffee can with your other hand and slip the bird into the can. It is important you only CRACK the lid. You want as much of the Ether to remain in the can as possible
  • Snap the lid tightly back on and wait

Waiting is probably the absolute worst part. This is NOT a fun task. You must be prepared. The Ether fumes are strong enough that it takes very little to put the bird to sleep. In fact, you may feel the life go out of the bird as you get it near the coffee can - even before you release it into  can. It is NOT a good feeling.  While I know it is for the best, I almost always cry. But better to cry and know the bird is no longer suffering, than to allow it to continue to suffer or use a method that is less quick.

In most cases, Gouldians will be asleep as soon as they get a single whiff of the ether (they may still be in your hand at that point). This is the same for most other very small species. Some hardier species such as Zebras and Societies may take a few seconds to succumb. You may wish to walk away from the can for a few moments. The bird will not like being placed in the can and may flop around for a few seconds. It is not pleasant, but is far better than allowing the bird to suffer or spread disease to the rest of your flock.

When you are certain the bird has succumbed to the fumes, you may remove the bird from the can for internment.

Again, this is not a pleasant task. You must be fully prepared for taking that life. And that NEVER becomes easy.If you do not feel you can perform this task yourself, take the bird to your Avian Veterinarian. They will be able to perform the task for you. ~k